Happy Birthday to Me!

Today marks the one year anniversary of a little pencil blog called Lead Fast. A lot has happened to me personally in the past year, but this project of mine has been so fun, I wouldn't change it for a minute.

I'm not going to do a rundown or State of the Union post here, just know that the blog is growing, I want to keep growing, and if you're reading this, you're one of the reasons why this is a great part of my life.

Yay stickers!

Yay stickers!

To commemorate this first birthday, I'm launching some stickers for sale! There are two stickers which are available individually, and one sticker that is only available in the three sticker pack. I'm selling these stickers because, as you can imagine, I need your help. This site costs money to run, and while I'm happy to continue paying out of pocket, anything I can do to offset the cost of hosting the site, running the site, and buying items to review, it helps. 

About the stickers: the individual stickers are $2, the 3 sticker mixed-pack is $5. Shipping (per order, not item) inside the USA is $1, for International it's $1.50.

The Lead Fast logo sticker and Lead Fast Pencil Club stickers are my own original designs. I made the URL Pencil sticker using a modified pencil from the Woodclinched Pencil Vector Pack (designed by Tony Headrick). The Pencil Club sticker is only available in the 3-pack and only a one-time run!

So, if you would find it in your heart to buy me a coffee or a beer if we ran into each other on the street, please think about grabbing a sticker or two. Money or no, I couldn't do this site without the participation of the community. Thank you! Here's to another year.

Snag some stickers and help out Lead Fast!

Baron Fig Bags on Kickstarter

As I'm sure many of you are already aware, Baron Fig launched another Kickstarter, this time to fund a new line of bags: a Tote bag, a Messenger bag, and a Backpack. Like all Baron Fig products, these are minimally designed, with everything that's included having a clear purpose.

The three bags in the Charcoal option.

Since the Kickstarter launched, they have hit the original funding goal, but now it's time to get the stretch. If the project hits $100K, a new color option will be made available for backers only: Slate Blue. It looks awesome and I may very well pick that option if they hit.

They have a good shot: right now it's sitting just south of 70K with 28 days to go...so you stragglers need to get in there and pledge because this thing has already hit...what are you waiting for? I'm waiting for a blue bag. Get on it, if you haven't already. There are still a lot of early bird packages available...even on the Starter Bundles, which feature a Confidant, a Vanguard, and a Limited Edition Squire. It has a lightbulb, people!

You can check out the Kickstarter page for the full details, but I'm going to talk about the Messenger bag, because that's what I picked. I went with the Early Bird Messenger Starter Bundle for $129. That's like getting the bag for $44. It's $80 on Kickstarter and will be $90 after the campaign. I'm going to buy more Confidants and Vanguards eventually, and the Squire is something I've wanted for a while but never really bit on. So with all those totaling $85 at retail, then throw a half price bag into the mix? Done. Sold. Now you do it so I can get the blue.

Pictures provided by and property of Baron Fig. This is NOT a sponsored post. I want that blue bag.

National Pencil Day

Because it's National Pencil Day and this is primarily a pencil blog (with some other stationery thrown in for good measure), I thought I'd talk about what pencils and this hobby mean to me and how I got into it in the first place.

I'd like to say that I've known I was into pencils and stationery since I was a little  kid, but that's not true. I wasn't one of those people obsessed with school supplies and I didn't have to have everything color-coordinated and "just so". I had a generic 3-ring binder I stole from my dad's office that was plastered with punk band stickers and I bought Mead loose leaf college ruled paper to fill it when I ran low. The school part of high school was spent going through the motions until I could get out. I did have a cool dark green Jansport backpack that everyone seems to be keen on these days...it sure as hell wasn't hipster-expensive like it is now.

I've always been a Techie-Luddite mix. It's kind of like saying an "extroverted introvert" I suppose. I was the one in my family that would be called over to Grandma's house to fix the printer or hook up their new TV, but while I did that I would rummage through their old records and take what I wanted. I loved vinyl...but I had one of the first iPods. I went to film school at a time when we actually still shot on film; as you can see by my YouTube channel, I still haven't properly figured out digital. I got out of film school and after a short stint at Fox in L.A., I decided it wasn't the life for me and moved to Chicago. Broke, I needed to find work to pay my student loans, so I started working at a record store. That's when I started to go full Luddite. I spent a whole year without TV or internet access. I had a computer, my trusty Power Mac G4 from college that lasted me well over a decade, but without the internet, it wasn't even worth turning on. I explored the city on my off days with my 35mm camera and rolls of film. I lost more rolls than I ever developed, and I couldn't tell you where most of those pictures are now. I always had plenty of film around, but never the cash to develop it. They are lost to the many times I've moved and to the sands of time. I used pencils at that point because of this time spent photographing Chicago. I wanted to have a way to track where I'd been, the pictures, the rolls, time of day, etc...all the things you do when you don't have GPS and other metadata attached to every photo. So I had a small 3" x 5" Mead Memo Book, top spiral bound, and whatever pencil stub I could snag from work, usually a Dixon Ticonderoga. I only took them when they were short enough to fit in the spirals and brought them back when they were too small to write with. This was pre-Field Notes, but I guarantee I have a picture of the neighborhood and possibly the building that FNHQ is now located...that's my old neighborhood and I explored it in depth. My trip up there for the Draplin event last December was cool, but one of the other reasons I wanted to go was to explore the old neighborhood and see what changed (a lot).

This was pre-iPhone...hell, this was pre-Razr. The only reason I even got my first cell phone is because my first roommate up there refused to get a land line. It was whatever they had free with the plan in 2003. So my note taking wasn't digital at all. I had been a blogger in college, back when they were called weblogs, in the early days of Blogger. Yes, I have found some of that old stuff on the Internet Archive, no you cannot see it. I didn't use my real name either, so you're not going to find it! I had no real topic...nobody did back then. It was link lists and musings on current and personal events. There was no "monetize your readers" bullshit back then...hell, Google wouldn't even index blogs. Mine was just a journal. I wanted to continue that, but without internet access, I turned to writing in Composition Notebooks. I maybe have 4 or 5 of those still around, some in pen, some pencil, mainly angsty song lyrics and problems that I WISH I had now.

I moved back to my hometown after a series of unfortunate events...job, lease, and relationship ended all in the same month...that's a sign, right? At least I got to get the internet again. Right as I was leaving Chicago, Field Notes was starting up. I was a Daring Fireball reader back then (still am) and Gruber, being friends with Jim Coudal, was talking about these new things, so I got on whatever mailing list or RSS feed (I don't even remember) and made sure to get some of these things when they came out. Honestly, I thought they looked cool but I wasn't interested in them at the time. I got a pack and used one about halfway through and gave away the others. I didn't bother with getting a Colors subscription back then because I was more into the 5 x 7 journal sized notebooks. That's when I went through my Black Moleskine and Pilot Precise phase. I probably have 20 of those hardcover black Moleskines full of journal entries and doodles in storage. I thought that's all I would need forever.

Then the iPhone came out.

I had been Mac-obsessed for a long time. My grandpa had one in the early days, we had them in junior high, but there was a brief time before Jobs came back that I had a Windows machine, high school and the first years of college. That one computer lasted me a while, but I went back to the Mac with my Power Mac G4 and never looked back since. The iPhone pulled me into full techie mode again and I was convinced analog was going the way of the dodo. But a funny thing happens when you're supposed to be dying: it could be argued that the very people creating analog replacements saved paper. It's a well-known trope that hipster, designer-y people like notebooks. Field Notes' popularity soared, as did Moleskine's. Kickstarter has launched a thousand pens, notebooks, and other stationery things. "Instagram-EDC-picture-culture" exploded. The internet has helped makers find customers, and helped like-minded people find each other. There are podcasts about anything and everything, including pens, pencils, and art supplies.

The groups I'm part of have helped educate me, have made me laugh, and have helped me get through tough times. I've made friends from around the world through this fondness for stationery. And I'm glad that a tech nerd from San Francisco by way of Indiana, a teacher with a buttery voice from Tennessee, and a tattooed philosopher / rad dad from Baltimore all came together to talk about this fondness, or I wouldn't have rekindled mine.

How did I stumble upon the #2 pencil podcast on the internet? Crossword puzzles. I bought a box of Ticonderogas (not sure, but probably Hecho in Mexico) and they suuuucked. Too hard for the crappy paper in the crossword puzzle book I was trying to complete. I also started using a Moleskine iPad case for work, which had a notebook opposite of the iPad. The paper sucked for the pen I liked at the time, the Pilot G2, and the thing was overly bulky, so I scrapped it and started carrying pocket Moleskines and one of those Ticonderogas behind my ear. They were too hard and left a light line for the grade they were supposed to be. I wanted something that mimicked the bold strokes of the pens I had been using. It was around this time that I looked into Field Notes again and tried a pack. They were just more fun than Moleskine books. A healthy appreciation quickly turned into an obsession...but it's turning back into just a healthy appreciation. But with that first order I got one of the Field Notes pencils. They aren't great, but they're better than the Made in Mexico Tics were at the time. It was a revelation. It was darker and reeked of cedar. Right then I knew there was something better out there, and the internet could help me.

So I went on a search for a better pencil. Two years and a massive deep dive later, here we are.

I never claim to be an expert in this at all, and I hope I don't come across as trying to be one. I am constantly learning, and I think that's been my lifelong mission: learn everything about everything I love. That's why I review so many pencils. I'm on a mission to learn about them all. I love blogging and getting to be part of the community in a small way. I'm floored every time I look at the analytics to see that people from all over the world have been visiting the site and that the audience has been growing. And I'm humbled to be mentioned by the big fish in this little pond from time to time. I only hope that I can get better at this for the readers and the community at large, and that I can maybe contribute to its growth and vibrancy in my own little way.

I still haven't finished that crossword puzzle book yet.

A Holiday Pencil Story

For me, Christmas always means one thing: going to my grandparents’ house to be with the family, have a big breakfast, and open presents. I never had the traditional “come downstairs in your pajamas and see what Santa brought” Christmas, because it was always “Get up, get dressed, we’re going to your Grandma’s house!” screams from my parents trying to get me out of bed. But I don’t mind it, because I would doubt that anyone actually has a “traditional” Christmas. What even is that? I’ve just been reading a book about advertising and branding that explains how the Santa Claus concept as we know it today was created by Coca Cola in the 30’s…ever wonder why his suit is Coke Red? That book is Branding: In Five and A Half Steps by Michael Johnson. I just got it for an early Christmas gift from the lady and it's excellent for designers.

Anyway, any time I think about my Grandpa, I think of the little pencil cups he has all over the house. One on the kitchen table, one on the table by his recliner, one in the basement family room, and even one in the bathroom, on top of the toilet. Not just one pencil, mind you, a whole cup, with about 5-6 pencils in it. They sit in a little old 7-Up wax paper cup from his time working for a paper goods manufacturer. If retro cups ever got the revival that old pencils got, I’d be set…they have boxes of old wax paper cups in their basement.

I haven’t really even talked to my grandpa about his pencil using habits. He’s an old military man, a career Army Sergeant that spent time in Korea, Germany, Hawaii (my dad was born there before it was a state) and many bases all over the US. He’s been in war and he’s a quiet, solemn man, which is not to say he’s not a happy man. He’s in his mid 80s and still strong as a bull, and besides a few woodworking accidents in which fingers were lost, a healthy man who has stayed out of the hospital for the most part.

For him, a pencil is a tool. He marks his cuts for woodworking projects, draws his plans, fills out crossword puzzles, makes his shopping lists…he uses his pencils as something to help him, not as a hobby that owns him, as so many of us do. I could learn a lot from him in that respect.

In a roundabout way, his use of pencils fed my stationery interest. As a little kid, I wanted to be like him. I remember setting up a little pencil pot on my desk, filling it with newly sharpened pencils and a few ink pens. He always had little scissors in his, so I made sure to put little scissors in mine. I always had plenty of pencils from Shelbyville, TN, which I remember only because I’m from Shelbyville IL, and it was always fascinating to me that there was another town called the same as mine in a different state. Back then there was more than Musgrave, so I couldn’t say what brand they were…but I remember Shelbyville.

I always check the pencil pots for anything old and exciting when I visit them. He uses pencils often, but I’m not sure he knows where they’ve come from. Some are newer cheap-o junk pencils. Some are older pencils that I’ve never seen before, cheap yellow pencils, but brands I don’t recognize that he got from god-knows-where. Then there are the old pencil stubs. Many of his pencils are nearing the Steinbeck Stage and the erasers are all used up. Being a good Depression-era man that he is, he doesn’t throw them away, just starts up another pencil and keeps the old one in the cup.

My dream would be to dig around and find some old Blackwings in his house, a stash of boxes, stacked as high as the wax paper cups. But I haven’t even found one. I haven’t even found any old Eberhard Faber pencils at all. Or anything rare. Which is a testament to the man who worked hard his whole life and collected something even better: the memories he’s recorded, the things he’s built in his wood shop, the smiles of everyone who has received one of those items. And our family. His most useful tool in that project was his hard work, love, and support he’s given us through the years.

Happy Holidays!